When People Want You To Stay in The Shadows

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Step into your light.

People don’t like you.

That’s what she said. My best friend in high school told me, “People don’t like you.”

She and I were both part of the music and theater crowd, and we were talking about some recent auditions for our school’s upcoming show.

“What? Why?!” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Because you get up there on the stage like you know you’re going to get the part, and then you audition, and then you do get it. Everyone hates that.”

People don’t like you when you succeed. That was the takeaway, the start of me thinking I needed to stand in the shadows.

Little did anyone know how hysterical I always was before an audition, how I never practiced in advance and waited until the last minute to even try out so that I’d have an excuse when I didn’t get picked. I was always convinced I wasn’t good enough and scared beyond my wits.

And then I would get picked. In fact, on most occasions I’d get the lead. I had no idea why! Performing was something I liked to do and it was what I gravitated to and so I’d drag myself kicking and screaming into auditioning, sure that I was awful and had no business being on the stage, and I’d get picked. It was always a complete shock to me when I’d land the lead. And then I learned no one liked me for it.

I was devastated.

* * *

A little more than a decade later, when I was working at Coca-Cola, we were to have a meeting with the head of our department. In the particular group I was in at the time, we rarely got this kind of audience. All I knew was that each of us was going to have a short period to share an update on our projects. I was excited about the opportunity, so I did what I thought I should do. I went through everything I was working on, looked at objectives and results, and wrote up a summary.

At the actual meeting, it turned out I was the only person who had done so much preparation in advance. I was the only person who had a physical piece of paper to share. I was the only one who had any data. The boss said he was duly impressed. When the meeting was over, one of my colleagues sneered, “Way to show us up, Katherine.”

Again, I was stunned. It seemed like the normal thing to do to be buttoned up and ready to go in front of the Vice President. I wasn’t showing anyone up. It had never occurred to me that everyone else wouldn’t be doing the same thing I had done.

Here we go again. Get back in the shadows, Katherine. People don’t like you.

* * *

I’ve come to believe that each person has a spotlight waiting for them. There’s a light shining down from God, or the universe, or whatever it is that you believe in, and you just need to step into it. It’s your light and no one else’s. It’s the space in which you do what you’re meant to do. In which you are the fullest iteration of you. What’s great about your light is that it doesn’t overlap with others’. There’s no competition. To get into my light, I don’t have to crowd anyone else out of theirs. Stepping into mine doesn’t affect anyone else’s ability to step into theirs.

For a long time I didn’t understand this. I felt like I couldn’t, shouldn’t step into my light. If I did, people wouldn’t like me. That’s what my best friend told me. That’s what my colleagues told me. Don’t do well, for goodness sake! Don’t raise your head up above the crowd. Don’t value yourself, or be proud of what you have accomplished. Don’t stand out in any way. Don’t even accidentally succeed, without strategy or forethought. If you step into your light, you’re taking away from others. I was wrong.

Still, stepping into your light is painful. It’s already bad enough when you have your own fears and anxieties about saying or doing anything special. Having any opinion, or staking your ground. What right do you have?!, you admonish yourself. We all do. Yet you are still pulled toward that something special, so much that eventually you have no choice but to push past your fears and try, only to have someone loudly object, “You were right. You don’t have any right. We don’t give you permission to do or be this.” They are wrong.

I want to step in. I’m going to step in, or at least try, into whatever it is I’m pulled to do, however many things that is, and I want you to know that it is no reflection on you whatsoever. In fact, I’d like to be standing in my light, next to you standing in yours, next to her standing in hers. There’s enough for all of us.

I don’t want to be vanilla just because it’s the most acceptable flavor for all people. I don’t want to stand in the shadows.


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